Normally, the Fulton County Courthouse closes at 5 pm. But as the sun began to set in Atlanta, the courthouse remained open. Once word broke that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis was presenting evidence to a grand jury, CNN and MSNBC delivered breathless reports of what was (or could) be happening. At 7:15 pm local time, Judge Robert McBurney told reporters he’d been asked to stay at the courthouse another hour.
People wondered aloud why things were running so late. There had already been a flurry of activity that day: former Georgia House Rep. Bee Nguyen released a statement earlier confirming that she’d testified under oath, and former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan also appeared before the grand jury. That jury returned 10 total indictments around 10 pm EST. But what was in them?
When the documents were unsealed, the information they revealed was staggering. In the city popularly known as “Hotlanta,” Fani Willis brought the heat with a 41-count indictment. It charged Donald Trump and 18 others with a criminal conspiracy related to their attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election (which Trump lost).
At roughly 11:40 pm local time (10:40 CST), Fani Willis arrived for a press conference, flanked by prosecutors and investigators who took part in the two-year investigation. “Today, based on information developed from that investigation, a Fulton County grand jury returned a true bill of indictment, charging 19 individuals with violations of Georgia law arising from a criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in this state,” Willis began. She then named all 19 people involved (by their full government names). The list includes Donald J. Trump, his lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clarke, and Trump attorneys Jenna Ellis and Kenneth Chesebro, among others.
“Every individual charged in this indictment is charged with one count of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizers Act, through participation in a criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia and elsewhere, to accomplish the illegal goal of allowing Donald Trump to seize the presidential term of office, on Jan. 20, 2021,” Willis said. “Specifically, the participants in association took various actions in Georgia and elsewhere to block the counting of the votes of the presidential electors who were certified as the winners of Georgia’s 2020 general election.”
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO” for short) is a federal law enacted by Congress in 1970 to target organized crime and ongoing patterns of racketeering. (Racketeering is a type of organized crime; simply put, it means engaging in an illegal scheme.) The RICO Act was originally established to prosecute Mafia activity. But today it’s often used to investigate white-collar crime. The Georgia law allows prosecutors to pull from a broad array of conduct for their indictments. They only need to prove two acts of what they call “racketeering activity.”
“As you examine the indictment, you will see acts that are identified as overt acts and acts that are identified as ‘predicate acts’ sometimes called ‘acts of racketeering activity,’” Willis said. She later added: “Acts of racketeering activity are also charged as separate counts in the indictment against those who are alleged to have committed them.” (Racketeering encompasses a lot of different crimes including extortion, bribery, arson and murder. The indictment charges Trump and company with conspiracy, computer theft, forgery and perjury – among other things.)
“Georgia, like every state, has laws that allow those who believe that the results of a presidential election are wrong – whether because of intentional wrongdoing or unintentional error – to challenge those results in our state courts. The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result.
Subsequent to the indictment, as is the normal process in Georgia law, the grand jury issued arrest warrants for those who are charged. I am giving the defendants the opportunity to voluntarily surrender no later than noon on Friday the 25th day of August 2023. I remind everyone here that an indictment is only a series of allegations based on the grand jury’s determination of probable cause to support the charges. It is now the duty of my office to prove these charges and the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.”